Rhetoric & Composition I: Autumn Quarter 2013 Rotating Header Image

Our word for today: synthesis

From a profile of Heidi Nelson Cruz in the New York Times:

By the time she arrived at Claremont McKenna College, friends and professors knew her as a whip-smart economics and international relations double-major who would graduate Phi Beta Kappa and a driven and ambitious young woman who was already planning a professional career.

In Mr. Cruz, friends and colleagues say, she finally met not just her match, but also her intellectual equal.

“Heidi is a synthesizer, whereas Ted tends to blow ahead on one line of reasoning,” said Lawrence B. Lindsey, the chief economic adviser on Mr. Bush’s 2000 campaign. Mrs. Cruz pulled together “different points of view,” he said, and Mr. Cruz is “more of a hard-charger on one point of view.”

From the OED:

Sense 6. a. In wider philosophical use and generally: The putting together of parts or elements so as to make up a complex whole; the combination of immaterial or abstract things, or of elements into an ideal or abstract whole. (Opposed to analysis.) Also, the state of being put so together.

From your St. Martin’s Guide:

When you read and interpret a source—for example, when you consider its purpose and relevance, its author’s credentials,its accuracy, and the kind of argument it is making—you are analyzing the source. Analysis requires you to take apart something complex (such as an article in a scholarly journal) and look closely at the parts to understand the whole better.

For academic writing you also need to synthesize—group similar pieces of information together and look for patterns—so you can put your sources (and your own knowledge and experience) together in an original argument. Synthesis is the flip side of analysis: you already understand the parts, so your job is to assemble them into a new whole. [see 3.12e — Synthesizing sources — for examples.]